JULY 2019 GARDEN BIRDS

The drought continues.

Laughing Doves never disappoint: they gather in the treetops to bask in the early morning sunshine; scour the ground for fallen seeds or cling onto the hanging feeders to eat the fine grass seed meant for the smaller birds; and fill the garden with their gentle cooing sound throughout the day. Our garden would be poorer without them.

It would probably be poorer without the Speckled Pigeons too, as messy as these home invaders are! The bright yellow Black-headed Orioles are a delight to see and hear every day. They tend to call to each other from the tree tops and swoop down in a flash of yellow to drink from the nectar feeder.

At this time of the year the Redwinged Starlings still fly around in flocks, making the most of the natural fruits and berries available in the neighbourhood.

A Cape Robin-chat regularly serenades me from the shrubbery while I am enjoying a cup of tea in the garden. There are fewer of the other songsters, the Olive Thrushes, about than usual. However, if I look around very carefully indeed, I can usually find one perched quietly in a tree watching me!

A Boubou has taken to helping itself to the offerings on Morrigan’s feeder from time to time.

Meanwhile, Amethyst and Greater Double-collared Sunbirds have been flitting around the garden making happy noises as if to say that spring is in the air. Black-collared Barbets are also calling to each other, but have been rather shy about appearing in the open this month – as have the ‘resident’ / regular pair of Knysna Turacos. The Fork-tailed Drongos never fail to please with their acrobatics and it is always a pleasure to spot Cape White-eyes.

A small flock of Crowned Hornbills paid a visit this month. They are always most welcome.

My July bird list is:

African Green Pigeon
Amethyst Sunbird
Barthroated Apalis
Blackcollared Barbet
Blackeyed Bulbul
Blackheaded Oriole
Boubou
Bronze Manikin
Cape Crow (Black)
Cape Robin-chat
Cape White-eye
Cattle Egret
Common Fiscal
Crowned Hornbill
Forktailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Greyheaded Sparrow
Hadeda Ibis
Knysna Turaco
Laughing Dove
Olive Thrush
Pied Crow
Redeyed Dove
Rednecked Spurfowl
Redwinged Starling
Sacred Ibis
Speckled Mousebird
Speckled Pigeon
Village Weaver

NOTE: Click on a photograph if you would like a larger view.

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JUNE 2019 GARDEN BIRDS

A number of factors have affected my enjoyment of watching the birds in our garden this month. Several days have gone by with only doves and Hadedas to be seen; the seed feeders remained full and the cut apples untouched. Among these factors has been the smoke from the municipal rubbish dump which burned for days on end – any self-respecting bird would have flown further afield to breathe more easily! Colder weather combined with wind does not make ideal bird-watching conditions. Then there is a very large neighbourhood cat, which I surprised the other morning while it was sitting directly under one of the seed feeders!

Black-headed Orioles are always a delight to watch, whether they are calling to each other from the treetops or swooping down to the nectar feeder. It’s strong, flesh-coloured beak can be clearly seen in this image:

The Cape Robin-Chat is another favourite of mine. I often watch a pair of them emerge from the tangled undergrowth behind our swimming pool and then fly across the pool to look for insects within the safety of the Crassula ovata growing on the other side.

A Speckled Pigeon has been collecting sticks for its nest in the ceiling above my study. It perches on a branch, surveys the ground below, selects a stick, flies up through the hole in the eaves, and then repeats this action many times during the day.

A first-time visitor to my garden this month is a Black-shouldered Kite. I didn’t have a camera handy, so this is one photographed in the Addo Elephant National Park:

My June bird list is:

African Green Pigeon
Amethyst Sunbird
Barthroated Apalis
Blackcollared Barbet
Blackeyed Bulbul
Blackheaded Oriole
Blackshouldered Kite
Boubou
Bronze Manikin
Cape Batis
Cape Robin (Cape Robin-chat)
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cattle Egret
Common Fiscal
Common Starling
Fiery-necked Nightjar
Forktailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Green Wood-hoopoe
Hadeda Ibis
Knysna Turaco
Laughing Dove
Olive Thrush
Pied Crow
Redeyed Dove
Redwinged Starling
Sacred Ibis
Speckled Mousebird
Speckled Pigeon
Village Weaver

NOTE: Click on a photograph for a larger view.

MAY 2019 GARDEN BIRDS

I cannot adequately convey how wonderful it is to hear the sounds of the Cape Turtle Dove in our garden at different times of the day. They used to be regular visitors to the feeders until elbowed out by the sheer number of Laughing Doves and Speckled Pigeons that wolf up the grain within twenty minutes of it being scattered outside. So, I hear the Cape Turtle Doves calling from the Erythrina trees in the back garden and see them pecking for food in the kitchen beds more often than they come to the front to see what the masses have left. Cape Turtle doves remind me of my childhood in the Lowveld and our visits to the Kruger National Park as well as the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, where this photograph was taken.

My favourite visitors are the Cape Robins that are among the first birds to greet the dawn and which come to peck at the fruit and other titbits when the garden is quiet and most of the other birds have left to seek food elsewhere.

A pair of Greyheaded Sparrows also prefer to visit the feeders after the doves and weavers have left. Some of the weavers are beginning to sport their winter tweeds, yet there are still many males looking as though they are ready to find a mate. A few males have been seen carrying strips of grass to tie onto thin branches – perhaps we need a really cold spell of weather to make them realise that there is still the winter to get through!

Of some concern is that the population of Speckled Pigeons nesting in our roof has increased to the point that they may have to be moved on and we will have to reseal the eaves. They are lovely birds to look at, however the mess they make is awful – our front steps and some of the outside walls are covered with their faeces, which cannot be a healthy situation in the long run.

Redwinged Starlings have been gathering in large flocks over the past few weeks. They fly around in flocks of between fifty and a hundred, sometimes breaking off to fly in different directions and meeting up again. They often settle in the Natal Fig, only to be frightened by loud noises from passing vehicles and a cloud of black rises up noisily to whirl about again: their reddish wings look beautiful against the light.

So do the bright red wings of the Knysna Turaco. How fortunate I was yesterday morning to watch a pair of them flitting around in the trees near to where I was sitting and then to drink from the bird bath situated only a few metres away from me!

A really interesting sight was an African Harrier Hawk (Gymnogene) flying low over the garden before perching in the Natal Fig. It wasn’t there long before I saw it take off with a single Fork-tailed Drongo in hot pursuit. The Drongo chased it right across the garden and back before the hawk changed direction to fly further afield. I am impressed with the feistiness of the Drongo!

I have already highlighted my photographs of the Green Wood-hoopoes that visited our garden last weekend, so will end with a photograph of an Amethyst Sunbird that posed for me briefly, albeit in the shade:

My May bird list is:

African Green Pigeon
African Harrier-Hawk (Gymnogene)
Amethyst Sunbird
Barthroated Apalis
Blackcollared Barbet
Blackeyed Bulbul
Blackheaded Oriole
Boubou
Bronze Manikin
Cape Robin (Cape Robin-chat)
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Wagtail
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cattle Egret
Collared Sunbird
Common Fiscal
Common Starling
Fiery-necked Nightjar
Forktailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Green Wood-hoopoe
Greyheaded Sparrow
Hadeda Ibis
Klaas’ Cuckoo
Knysna Turaco
Laughing Dove
Olive Thrush
Pied Crow
Redeyed Dove
Redfronted Tinkerbird
Rednecked Spurfowl
Redwinged Starling
Sombre Bulbul
Speckled Mousebird
Speckled Pigeon
Spectacled Weaver
Village Weaver

APRIL 2019 GARDEN BIRDS

The lateness of this entry is indicative of how busy April was. The paucity of birds on my list is partly due to the lack of opportunity to relax and watch them visit my garden and partly because for several days near the beginning of the month it seemed they had decided to abandon my patch of paradise for one somewhere else. It was disconcerting to find the feeders untouched morning after morning. I can usually rely on the resident Speckled Pigeons as well as the regular contingent of Laughing Doves and the odd Cape Turtle Dove to arrive during the course of the day to gobble up the coarsely crushed maize I scatter on the ground for them. Not this time.

Speckled Pigeon

On some mornings they would gather in the treetops only to inexplicably fly off in a flurry. It was a while before I realised that a Eurasian Hobby had taken up residence!

This was the last month during which we saw White-rumped Swifts as they departed for northern climes earlier in the month. Instead, for a few mornings in a row I was delighted to see a small group of Red-necked Spurfowl exploring my garden.

Rednecked Spurfowl

On the subject of red: Red-eyed Doves and Red-winged Starlings have settled into the fig tree in fairly large flocks this month. A lovely surprise visitor at the nectar feeder was a Collared Sunbird. The other was a pair of African Paradise Flycatchers.

African Paradise Flycatcher

My April bird list is:

African Green Pigeon
African Paradise Flycatcher
Amethyst Sunbird
Bar-throated Apalis
Black-collared Barbet
Black-eyed Bulbul
Black-headed Oriole
Bronze Manikin
Cape Robin
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape White-eye
Cardinal Woodpecker
Cattle Egret
Collared Sunbird
Common Starling
Eurasian Hobby
Fiery-necked Nightjar
Fork-tailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Grey-headed Sparrow
Hadeda Ibis
Klaas’s Cuckoo
Knysna Turaco
Laughing Dove
Olive Thrush
Pied Crow
Redbilled Woodhoopoe
Red-eyed Dove
Red-necked Spurfowl
Red-winged Starling
Southern Boubou
Speckled Mousebird
Speckled Pigeon
Streakyheaded Seedeater
Village Weaver
White-rumped Swift

MARCH 2019 GARDEN BIRDS

March is a time of change in the garden. The small amount of rain that fell during the month has revived the trees and grass, while encouraging the blooming of the Plumbago.

It is also the time when the natural grasses go to seed, providing a nutritious alternative to the seeds I put out regularly. Weavers are losing their bright breeding plumage and have suspended their nest-building activities until spring. Not so the Olive Thrushes, of which I have counted up to six visible at a time, for at least one pair is still nesting. You will have to look at this photograph very carefully for the patch of orange on top of the dark mass of the nest!

Speckled Mousebirds scour the bushes for tiny berries, leaves, flowers and nectar, while Laughing Doves peck over the recently cleared compost area as well as the masses of tiny figs from the Natal Fig tree that have dropped onto the road below that are crushed by passing vehicles. The clusters of figs also attract African Green Pigeons and Redwinged Starlings among a host of other birds.

As the Hadeda Ibises are no longer nesting, several have chosen to roost in this tree. On some mornings they wake as early as four o’clock to let the neighbourhood know they have slept well and are ready to discuss their breakfast plans. More melodious are the liquid notes of a pair of Blackheaded Orioles that waft through the garden, along with the gentle cooing of Cape Turtle Doves and the cheerful chirrup of Blackeyed Bulbuls. A pair of Forktailed Drongos regularly keep watch from either the telephone pole or the Erythrina caffra tree, ready to swoop down on anything edible that catches their eye. I have already drawn attention to the pair of Knysna Turacos that reside in the garden and recently posted a photograph of one looking at its reflection in our neighbour’s window. This is the view from the other side:

Cattle Egrets roosting in the CBD continue to experience hard times: two tall trees have recently been removed from the garden of a complex of flats because residents complained about the noise they make as well as the smell of their droppings. Several have taken to perching atop a neighbour’s tall tree in the late afternoons, but are not (yet) overnighting there.

Finally, of course my camera wasn’t at hand when we witnessed the very unusual sight of a Cardinal Woodpecker drinking and bathing in the bird bath only a short distance from where we were sitting!

My March bird list is:

African Green Pigeon
African Harrier Hawk (Gymnogene)
Amethyst Sunbird
Bar-throated Apalis
Black-collared Barbet
Black-eyed Bulbul
Black-headed Oriole
Bronze Manikin
Cape Robin
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Wagtail
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cardinal Woodpecker
Cattle Egret
Common Fiscal
Common Starling
Fork-tailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Hadeda Ibis
Hoopoe
Knysna Turaco
Laughing Dove
Lesser-striped Swallow
Olive Thrush
Paradise Flycatcher
Pied Crow
Red-eyed Dove
Red-winged Starling
Sombre Bulbul
Southern Boubou
Speckled Mousebird
Speckled Pigeon
Spectacled Weaver
Streakyheaded Seedeater
Village Weaver
White-rumped Swift

Note: Click on the photographs if you want a larger view.

DECEMBER 2018 GARDEN BIRDS

What an interesting month this has been for observing birds in our garden! The Lesser-striped Swallows are making yet another valiant attempt at rebuilding their mud nest. Here we are, past mid-summer, and they have still not managed to complete a nest nor raise a family. Finding suitable mud in these drought conditions must be difficult – I suspect they collect it from the edges of the rapidly drying-up dam over the road.

Despite several Village Weavers in varying states of maturity populating the garden, a number of them have recently been hard at work weaving their nests very high up in the Natal Fig.

A pair of Hadeda Ibises are also nesting in the fig tree.

The prolonged drought has resulted in a dearth of nectar-bearing flowers, making our nectar feeder so popular that I have been filling it twice a day for most of this month. It is visited regularly by Fork-tailed Drongos, Village Weavers, Cape Weavers, Black-eyed Bulbuls, Amethyst Sunbirds, Greater Double-collared Sunbirds, Black-headed Orioles as well as a Spectacled Weaver.

A pair of Red-winged Starlings began the month stuffing their beaks with apple flesh to take to their chick and, before long, were bringing their youngster to the feeding table to feed it there. It is now able to feed itself.

Life is not easy for birds: an alarm call from a Cape Robin had me interrupting our lunch to see what the problem was. I approached the bushes outside the dining room very cautiously as I was met with a flurry of birds including a fierce-looking Bar-throated Apalis, an agitated Paradise Flycatcher, a Thick-billed Weaver and several weavers. I only managed to photograph the alarmed robin before seeing a Boomslang weaving its way sinuously among the branches just above my head – time to beat a retreat!

On a different occasion the alarm call of a Cape Robin, combined with the frantic chirruping of other birds, drew me outdoors towards the thick, tangled hedge of Cape Honeysuckle. Mindful of snakes, I approached it very cautiously until I became aware of a distinctive clicking sound, kluk-kluk, which convinced me of the likelihood of finding either a Grey-headed Bush Shrike or a Burchell’s Coucal raiding a nest. It was neither. The vegetation as well as the hurried movements of Village Weavers, a Bar-throated Apalis and a particularly agitated-looking female Greater Double-collared Sunbird made photography nigh impossible. It was several minutes before I was able to ‘capture’ the nest-raider. This time it was a Southern Boubou.

What greater pleasure could there be, just as the year is drawing to a close, to have not one Hoopoe visit our garden, but four!

My December bird list:

African Green Pigeon
Amethyst Sunbird
Bar-throated Apalis
Black Crow
Black Saw-wing
Black-collared Barbet
Black-eyed Bulbul
Black-headed Oriole
Bokmakierie
Bronze Manikin
Cape Robin
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cardinal Woodpecker
Cattle Egret
Common Fiscal
Common Starling
Diederik Cuckoo
Fiery-necked Nightjar
Fork-tailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Grey-headed Sparrow
Hadeda Ibis
Hoopoe
Klaas’s Cuckoo
Knysna Turaco
Laughing Dove
Lesser-striped Swallow
Olive Thrush
Paradise Flycatcher
Pin-tailed Whydah
Red-billed Woodhoopoe
Red-chested Cuckoo
Red-eyed Dove
Red-fronted Tinkerbird
Red-winged Starling
Sacred Ibis
Southern Boubou
Southern Masked Weaver
Southern Red Bishop
Speckled Mousebird
Speckled Pigeon
Spectacled Weaver
Streaky-headed Seedeater
Village Weaver
White-rumped Swift
Yellow-fronted Canary

NOVEMBER 2018 GARDEN BIRDS

I wonder if you also found November hurtling through time with gathering momentum. I have at last found a moment to reflect on an interesting month of birding in my garden. Only two newcomers this month: a Hoopoe – the ground is so hard at the moment that I am not surprised they have not featured on our lawn since February! The other is a pair of the very beautiful Paradise Flycatchers that we sometimes glimpse flitting between trees.

Redbilled Woodhoopoes have been regular visitors. Not only do they probe the cracks in the bark of older trees, but I see them using their long curved beaks to probe deep between the aloe leaves. They also occasionally visit the feeding tray to eat apples – and cheese!  Speaking of which, it is interesting to observe how meticulous all the birds are about wiping their beaks clean on the branches after eating, and even after drinking at the ‘nectar pub’.

Cape White-eyes are regular visitors to the nectar feeder. They look left and right between every sip and seldom stay for long at a time, preferring to fly off and return a few minutes later. They too enjoy pecking at the apples I put out.

A really beautiful sight is that of the Sacred Ibises flying in formation over the garden at the end of the day. They fly just high enough for the setting sun to highlight their white wings. I usually count about seventeen of them at flying graciously together after having spent their day at a dam on the edge of town.

I have already featured the nest of the Fork-tailed Drongo, but think it is worth showing it again. The parents are still taking turns to incubate the eggs and have been seen mobbing a Pied Crow more than once.

The fig tree remains a favourite place for the African Green Pigeons to roost – the thick foliage makes them very difficult to see unless they move. For the first time the other day, I observed one feeding another and wonder if this is part of a courting ritual. A pair of Red-winged Starlings are well beyond that stage for they have been filling their beaks with fruit to take off to feed their youngsters. One comes down to fill up on apples, waits for the other to arrive and do the same, then the two fly off together in the direction of their nest.

Nests: the Lesser-striped Swallows have had such a to-do already. Long-time readers will be aware that this pair has built numerous nests under our eaves. Sometimes they have managed to breed successfully, but every summer their mud nest collapses at least once and they have to start from scratch. Last summer they built their best nest yet: solid, beautifully formed and well positioned outside our front door. This nest was usurped by a pair of White-rumped Swifts and they had to build elsewhere. That beautiful nest was still intact on their return and they wasted no time in laying an egg – wonderful, I thought, until I came home to find an egg dashed on the floor and had to duck as the swifts flew above my head. They had grabbed the home for themselves again.

There was nothing for it. Despite the paucity of mud, the intrepid swallows mustered their courage to build a nest from scratch on the site of their original endeavours. It was coming on well – very well.

Then, alas, for reasons I am unable to fathom, the structure came tumbling down and turned to dust. They are now trying to build a nest at a different site they have used before. We need rain badly for all sorts of reasons, but especially to provide good building material for this plucky pair of birds!

My November bird list:

African Green Pigeon
Amethyst Sunbird
Bar-throated Apalis
Black Saw-wing
Black-collared Barbet
Black-eyed Bulbul
Black-headed Oriole
Bokmakierie
Bronze Manikin
Burchell’s Coucal
Cape Robin
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cattle Egret
Common Fiscal
Common Starling
Diederik Cuckoo
Fork-tailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Grey-headed Sparrow
Hadeda Ibis
Hoopoe
Jackal Buzzard
Klaas’s Cuckoo
Knysna Turaco
Laughing Dove
Lesser-striped Swallow
Olive Thrush
Paradise Flycatcher
Pied Crow
Red-billed Woodhoopoe
Red-chested Cuckoo
Red-eyed Dove
Red-fronted Tinkerbird
Red-winged Starling
Sacred Ibis
Southern Boubou
Speckled Mousebird
Speckled Pigeon
Spectacled Weaver
Streaky-headed Seedeater
Village Weaver
White-rumped Swift